Louder than ever 

Your complete guide to the 9th annual Big Sky Documentary Film Festival

Page 3 of 4

In just 40 minutes, director Jonathan Napolitano masterfully weaves three personal vignettes with the ins and outs of a quirky and fascinating competition. That this is Napolitano's first documentary makes it all the more impressive. (DL)

Showing: Mon., Feb. 20, at 2 p.m., at the Crystal.

Sound It Out

According to this film, an independent record store closes every three days in the UK. But Sound It Out, the last surviving vinyl record store in Teesside, England, bucks this troubling trend and remains open. Director Jeanie Finlay asks the unthinkable: What would it mean to the customers and owner if the shop closed?

click to enlarge Sound it Out
  • Sound it Out

Teesside is a crumbling city with high unemployment and higher rates of drinking and drug use. For the mostly male customers, the record store is a sanctuary from all that is wrong with their hometown. Mind you, these are not "cool customers." These are single men who spend their days thinking about unopened blue vinyl first editions of pressings from particular South African neighborhoods. Owner Tom Butchart acts as encyclopedia and psychologist to his customers, and his shop becomes the family room many of them will never have. The film is at its best when Finlay follows some of these customers back to their homes. When they share their record collections and passion for music, their love of vinyl becomes less peculiar than a man's love of football or drink. (JM)

Showing: Sun., Feb. 19, at 5:15 p.m., at the Wilma.

Visionary Insight

It's true that Winter In the Blood stars Chaske Spencer and Julia Jones, who play werewolves in the Twilight movies, plus David Morse who was in The Hurt Locker, The Green Mile and a million other films. But the real hype around this film isn't the star power, but the local connections.

It's set on the Montana Hi-Line. It's directed by two Montana filmmakers, Alex and Andrew Smith, who made Slaughter Rule, starring Ryan Gosling, which was at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival. The crew is stocked with Montana residents and University of Montana graduates. And it's based on the book by late, great American Indian author James Welch.

For the Big Sky Film Fest, film director Tracy Rector (whose other films have screened at the BSDFF in previous years) screens Visionary Insight, a behind-the-scenes look at Winter in the Blood that follows eight American Indian interns working on the film. You can also see the Blood trailer and hear live music from the soundtrack. It's the first look at a film that will receive much more attention as its release date approaches. (EF)

Showing: Sat., Feb. 25, at 5:15 p.m., at the Wilma.

The Bus

When Jerry Garcia died, Volkswagen ran an ad in Rolling Stone magazine of a VW bus with a tear falling from the left front headlight. Rarely has a car manufacturer understood its cultish connection to customers as Volkswagen did with its iconic bus. The thing was unlike anything else on the road, and it found a devoted following among hippies, artists, vagabonds and loners.

The Bus captures this endearing bond during a delightful drive down memory lane. Local filmmaker Damon Ristau includes rare archival footage, vintage advertisements, pop-culture clips ranging from Easy Rider to Cars and interviews with modern-day enthusiasts to show how the goofy-looking and simply designed bus became a cultural icon. The material is rich, and the storytelling finds a perfect balance between straightforward history and irreverence. The Bus runs much like the bus itself. (SB)

Showing: Thur., Feb. 23, at 7:30 p.m., at the Wilma.

Man on a Mission

As an avid space buff, I'm a little embarrassed I had never heard of Richard Garriott. His story is worth learning in Man on a Mission, if only for the strangely charming character study.

Richard's father was Owen Garriott, an astronaut in the '70s and '80s who spent more than two months aboard early space stations Skylab and Spacelab. Richard dreamed of becoming an astronaut but poor eyesight made it impossible. So instead, he developed video games, creating some of the first fantasy role-playing games, like Akalabeth and Ultima. The games make him rich enough to buy a $30 million ticket into space aboard a Russian rocket and 12 days on the International Space Station. Oh, and he commonly goes by his other name, Lord British, refuses to cut his braided ponytail and lives in a haunted house/museum adorned with various medieval items.

click to enlarge Man on a Mission
  • Man on a Mission

Yeah, that sounds worthy of a documentary.

Despite his many eccentricities, the surprise here is that Richard seems like a genuinely decent and interesting guy, and the proof is that we never sense a hint of resentment from his fellow astronauts and cosmonauts during a year of training and two weeks in space. What's more, his father appears to be legitimately excited for and proud of his son. (DL)

Showing: Mon., Feb. 20, at 4 p.m., at the Wilma.

No Room For Rockstars

No Room For Rockstars is a low-budget documentary that's disjointed and 40 minutes too long, but just scrappy and irreverent enough to make you smile at the fun of it all.

Director Parris Patton travels along with the 2010 Warped Tour as the punk and alternative rock festival hits 43 cities in 51 days over the course of a summer. Most of the bands aren't particularly interesting, but Patton manages to effectively convey the day-to-day grind of building and dismantling a small city every day, often with little sleep and in harsh weather conditions.

click to enlarge No Room for Rockstars
  • No Room for Rockstars

What saves the film is chart-topper Mike Posnernot for his musical ability or charisma, but for the hilarious incongruity of a rising pop star sharing a tour bus with struggling, low-level rock bands like Fake Problems and Anarbor. There is a mix of mild resentment and bewildered amusement as the bands discuss their hard years on the road as the newcomer Posner picks out a wardrobe for his Rolling Stone photo shoot.

No Room For Rockstars could have used a better editor to eliminate repetitive crowd and caravan shotsit's essentially an hour of interesting footage in a 100-minute film. But audiences, especially music lovers, will appreciate the hidden gems here. (DL)

Showing: Sat., Feb. 25, at 5:15 p.m., at the Wilma.

Code of the West

Code of the West seems like the perfect tongue-in-cheek title for a film about the shenanigans of last year's Montana state legislature. Filmmaker Rebecca Richman Cohen's documentary-in-progress takes a look at how Montana went from being a pioneer in legalizing medical marijuana to being the first state to attempt to repeal the law. It's a film about the legislative process and also about how communities really do struggle to find a code of conduct that everyone can agree on.

This year's festival offers a handful of docs-in-progress like this one that audiences can view and provide feedback for the filmmakers. The issues in Code of the West are still being hotly debated, and our guess is this will be a high-attendance event. The after-film discussion could prove to be just as compelling as the film because of the opinions represented: both medical marijuana advocate Tom Daubert and Cherrie Brady from Safe Communities Safe Kids will be in attendance, as well as Cohen. (EF)

Showing: Mon., Feb. 20, at 5:45 p.m., at the Wilma.

If A Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front

Daniel McGowan doesn't look like Hollywood's version of a terrorist. He looks like some no-name office jockey. He's white with a dark head of hair and a thin beard. He slouches and mopes. His only distinguishing feature at the beginning of If A Tree Falls is a T-shirt with a photo of George W. Bush and the words "International Terrorist."

Funny thing about that shirt: McGowan is actually the one facing two life sentences for terrorist activity.

click to enlarge If A Tree Falls
  • If A Tree Falls

Director Marshall Curry uses McGowan to tell the inside story of the Earth Liberation Front, a group of radical environmentalists once billed by the FBI as the country's "number one domestic terrorism threat." ELF didn't bother with petitions or ralliesit set fire to timber companies, slaughterhouses and a $12 million ski lodge in Vail. McGowan took part in efforts like these and articulately explains his actions. The system doesn't work. He had to do something. This was the only way to enact change.

If A Tree Falls includes incredible access to and previously unseen footage of ELF, but it also provides balance. The federal agents who tracked the group for years detail the case and articulate the reason for the "terrorist" label. The companies that fell victim to ELF arsons vigorously defend their business practices. More importantly, by the end of the film McGowan himself begins to question the extent of the group's actions. (SB)

Showing: Tue., Feb. 21, at 5 p.m., at the Wilma.

Deep tracks

A treasure trove of rare concert footage makes its way to the big screen

Nothing like Pat Ivers's and Emily Armstrong's collection of filmed performances will ever happen again. Sure, there could be another explosion of talented, heretofore unknown musicians creating interesting life- and scene-altering tuneage, but if that does happen again (it won't) the musicians will have been photographed, filmed and recorded since before they were born. There will be no secret warehouse performances or lost tapes. No zines with pictures made from grainy, photocopied Polaroids passed around middle school cafeterias (Or Educational Feeding Centers, as they will become known.) Modern technology won't allow it. In fact, neither will we. We've come to expect everything to arrive yesterday. Too bad. Secrets are fun. Sharing secrets is even more fun. And Ivers and Armstrong are sharing their secrets with the world. That must be a riot.

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